Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“A different feeling since you’ve been gone.” Yeah, that’s it. Too many times I catch myself looking down and back, only to find some scrub looking horrified, or empty air because one ran off.
“Ten, left.”
This one has a different feel. She’s got this lilt to her voice. Fluent in some old language, too. Well, the swearing bits. Yet, when we’re in the thick of it, her accent disappears. Just this monotone that delivers what I need, when I need it.
“Seven, centre.”
Incoming. I rest my assault rifle against a building, taking the essential pause to make sure the building can take the weight, then crouch down, wind my arms back, preload my pectorals, and wait.
“Five, centre.”
I glance back.
“Take three steps left, miss.”
“Call me Riley.”
“I’m Olaf.”
She nods, then moves as instructed.
“Two, square.”
It’s coming right at me.
The shadow of wings flashes over us and I unwind, my arms swinging in so fast the air screams. I time it perfectly. The Gakdarbu is where it needs to be. My fists land on either side of its tubular head like gigantic hammers. Brutally effective: even if I get it wrong, I’ll stun it, maybe paralyse it.
I get it right. The skull compresses, then explodes. Purple brains, green flesh and pink blood spray everywhere as shards of black bone strafe the area like a warm rain of obsidian daggers.
Amazing mess. So pret-
Something slams into the back of my left knee. I stagger that way and the hurtling body only clips my shoulder, instead of hitting me square in the chest. Even that love tap knocks me flat. I might be a bioengineered war giant, but taking five thousand kilos of headless alien raptor dead centre will spread me like chunky salsa.
There’s a lot of incomprehensible swearing. I hear her take a huge breath, let it out, then something pounds on the side of my calf.
“Do you pause to watch the rain of bloody shite every time, or do you only indulge when it’s likely to get you killed, Olaf?”
I look down. She’s pinned under my leg, beating on my calf armour with the butt of a pistol. I can see sparks where her impact field is having trouble keeping my leg from squashing her like a bug. Looking closer, I see her right shoulder is dented, and lower than it should be.
“You tackled me?”
“Yes, you gigantic idjit. Can’t have you dying on my first day as your spotter. Now could you puh-leeze get the feck offa me?”
Oh, yeah. I move my leg.
“You need something for that shoulder?”
She nods, rolls to her knees, and shucks the shoulder plate.
“I need you to straighten that while I deal with my wandering joint.”
Grabbing her right arm, she twists it, and then slams her right shoulder into my calf armour. There’s a wet ‘pop’. I feel a little sick. She screams.
I pick the armour plate up and carefully squeeze it back to true, then offer it to her.
She wipes her eyes and takes it. After locking it back into place, she grins.
“Nice job.”
“What next?”
“At least being nearly crushed kept me mostly free of shite. There’s a lake over in what used to be the city park. Wanna rinse?”
“Good idea, Riley.”
“Too right it is. I’m stinky. You reek.”
What? I take a deep breath and get a whiff of myself. Oof. The lady holding her nose and laughing at my expression has a point.
I like her.